House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz announced Wednesday that he will not run for re-election to his House seat in 2018.
The Utah Republican said he won’t seek any political office in 2018, stirring speculation that he may run for governor in 2020. Last year, he told the Deseret News he would “take a serious, serious” look at running for governor in 2020, after his term as chairman of the House’s primary investigative committee expires. He has also considered a Senate bid but told the newspaper the idea no longer interested him.
On Wednesday, Chaffetz said he is returning to the private sector for no other reason than he wants to.
“For those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives,” Chaffetz (R-Utah) wrote on his Facebook page.
“I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be reelected by large margins. I have the full support of Speaker Ryan to continue as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That said, I have made a personal decision to return to the private sector.”
Chaffetz, 50, was first elected to the House in 2008 and became Oversight chairman in 2015. He undertook a wide range of probes during the Obama administration but has been criticized for inaction since the election of President Trump.
It might have been a tougher battle than the lawmaker was used to if Chaffetz chose to run again next year. His 3rd district is conservative, sending him back to Washington with 74 percent of the vote last year.
Nonetheless, Chaffetz had attracted a Democratic challenger for 2018 — first-time candidate Kathryn Allen, who outraised the congressman by collecting $534,000 since the start of the year. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Allen’s contributions spiked after Chaffetz appeared on national television and said low-income Americans might want to prioritize buying health insurance over getting a new iPhone.
Republican Damian Kidd is also considering running for the seat, pointing to Chaffetz’s withdrawing — and shortly afterward, reinstating — his support for Trump during the campaign when he said that he couldn’t look his 15-year-old daughter in the eye after Trump’s lewd comments toward women caught on the “Access Hollywood” tape.
Earlier this month, Chaffetz held a town hall meeting during which an angry crowd criticized his tenure as Oversight chairman, among other issues. He has faced several angry demonstrations in his district since Trump’s election, but dismissed them in February as “very, very small minority” that is “not representative of the average person, certainly not in Utah.”
Protesters’ primary complaint is Chaffetz’s unwillingness to aggressively investigate the Trump administration and Trump’s conflicts of interest regarding his sweeping business empire.
The congressman’s interest in investigating the Republican president paled in comparison to his actions during the Obama administration, when he eagerly probed the Internal Revenue Service, Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In mid-February, after Trump pored over documents related to North Korea on the outdoor terrace at Mar-a-Lago, Chaffetz asked the White House for information about security at the private club.
The letter — Chaffetz’s first request to the Trump White House — was interpreted as a small concession to critics, but failed to quiet them after Chaffetz said on the same day he would not launch a probe into Trump’s ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had just resigned. The situation with Flynn was “taking care of itself,” Chaffetz said.
A frequent face on cable news, Chaffetz is known among House Republicans for his ambition. In 2015, he launched a quixotic bid to succeed former Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) before stepping aside when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he was willing to run for the position.
Trump’s election seemed to catch the Utah Republican off-guard. Before Nov. 8, Chaffetz told The Post he was readying “years” of investigations into Clinton’s background and work as secretary of state. “It’s a target-rich environment,” he said, seeming to assume Clinton would beat Trump. “She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”
The Utah Republican said last year he was not interested in running for the Senate, though some interpreted his back-and-forth on whether to vote for Trump as a sign he was weighing a bid against Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who comes up for reelection in 2018.
“The more I’m here, the more I’m convinced I don’t want to be in the United States Senate,” Chaffetz told the Deseret News. “I’ve already invested years in the House and it’s essentially the same job, just more people over here and more competition.”